Birmingham day trip

Today, we drove to Birmingham for the day to explore this Alabama city famous for being one of the major hubs for civil rights movement activity. We discovered that it has a very fun and eclectic farmer’s market with many vendors selling everything from squash pickles, baby eggplants, to freshly baked wheat loaves and grandma’s handed down recipe for banana pudding. We visited the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, plus the 16th Street Baptist Church right across the street, where in 1963, four little black girls were murdered when the Ku Klux Klan bombed them in a racist attack. We learned in further detail what went down in Birmingham during the many decades of racial segregation, and got a relearning of the events that happened in cities across the south, from Greensboro with the sit-ins at “whites only” restaurants (which we saw at the International Civil Rights Museum in Greensboro last year) to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., when he was standing at the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel (which is now where the National Civil Rights Museum is located) in support of sanitation worker rights in 1968.

I can’t help but think about all the parallels between what happened in a segregated America and what happens today. Is it really that much different? Now, it’s just more disguised and nuanced. “States rights” is just code for anti-people of color, anti-woman, anti-immigrants, anti-progress. Shooting unarmed black men is defended as a police officer protecting his own life. Disagreeing with Muslims or brown people coming into this country is based on the lack of desire to allow people to “leech” off our system of benefits… which really isn’t that good to begin with when compared with that of other westernized countries. It’s hard for me to understand or empathize with that way of thinking. Aren’t we all just trying to do the best we can with what we have?

The worst part about visiting all these museums full of history that is supposed to teach us how we can learn from the past and not repeat it is that the people who need to visit these museums and read this history are just not doing it and will likely never do it. They will never be open to visiting a civil rights museum or exhibit or watching a movie about police brutality against black people. There’s no seeing the other side’s story to them. But it goes back to how poorly educated people are here because in everyday schools in the U.S., you aren’t fully taught the full brunt of slavery and the post-Civil War period. It’s not like when the Civil War ended, all white people widely opened their arms to black people; it was actually quite the opposite, hence the KKK. That’s why we had laws around segregation and no interracial marriages. But if you don’t know that or learn that, then you will never “get” it today.

Stimulating conversation, 3 years later

For the long Labor Day weekend, Chris and I headed down to Atlanta for some Southern exploration, including visiting MLK’s National Historic Site and Birth Home, Jimmy Carter’s Presidential Library and Museum, and the National Center for Civil Rights in Atlanta. We’re also doing a day trip tomorrow to Birmingham for their Civil Rights Institute and historic site, particularly since it was one of the key cities of the Civil Rights Movement. As the start to our trip, we met up with two friends we met in Little Rock in October 2016, at an informal gathering that my friend organized. My friend and the female friend were in the same med school program, and at that time, this couple had just started dating after meeting online. Almost three years later, they’ve recently gotten married and are now working and living in Atlanta.

She is Bangladeshi and Muslim, born in Kuwait, and moved to Baton Rouge with her family when she was 10. He is a fifth or sixth generation Mexican American born and raised in San Antonio, having lived in Little Rock and now Atlanta. He’s also atheist, but he “ceremonially” converted to Islam in order to marry her, and they had a Muslim wedding. I remember having a lot of fun with them back in 2016 during our Little Rock visit and feeling very energized during our hours-long conversation. I think the thing that got me the most was that I was spending time around people in the sciences (she was studying to be a doctor at the time; he’s a microbiologist working for the FDA) and learning all kinds of things that I really had no idea about. And it dawned on me then that I rarely get much intellectually stimulating conversation. Work conversations are very occasionally interesting when colleagues are debating certain topics or discussing politics. With long-time friends, we’re usually just catching up on random goings-on in each other’s lives. I read a lot, but I don’t have a book club to discuss the books in. Overall, I don’t feel “sparked” much. But I loved hearing what these two had to say then. And it was also fun to see them nearly three years later and realize that this general sentiment hasn’t changed. They are just as fun and engaging as they were then.

My ears always turn on when people are discussing culture, race, politics, and how their lives relate to all of that from a day to day perspective. In general, I don’t think I spend enough time talking to anyone about these things, and maybe that’s what I am missing.

Office bullying

In the 11 years I’ve been working full time, I’ve been pretty lucky. I’ve never really felt bullied (okay, maybe by my second boss to a degree, but that’s another story for another time). But then, for the first time, I actually heard what could be perceived as bullying right in front of me.

My colleague was eating 4% Siggi’s low-sugar yogurt. Now, I understand most people don’t understand how these percentages work with dairy fat, but in general, 1% is like water, 2% is considered like half the fat, and 4% is considered nearly full-fat yogurt. 0% – don’t even get me started. It sticks to your throat, is super dry, and makes you feel like you are gagging for air once you are done eating it. If you eat that, we just can’t be friends. If I am eating yogurt, I try to eat full fat or low fat. Milk was never meant to be defatted, so why are thinking we are eating natural foods when happily consuming 0% fat yogurt or milk? Gone are the days when fat was demonized (hello, 90’s). Today, everyone is still stupid and wrong, demonizing carbs, whole wheat and grain, and ignorantly and blindly favoring gluten-free diets to the detriment of their well-being whether they are aware of it or not.

Anyway, so my colleague had a mean girl approach her in the office, who went on and on and on about how she had no idea how anyone could eat 4%. “Four percent fat? That’s so gross!” she squealed in her mean girl tone. “That’s like, so much fat. That’s like eating half and half in a cup. It’s not healthy.”

I just couldn’t handle it anymore and had to step in. Once people start demonizing food, I have to stand up for… well, food. “Well, actually if you really think about it, ‘healthy’ is subject to change,” I interjected. “Fat is not necessarily evil in itself. And if you think about it, 0% milk is just not… natural? Shouldn’t we be eating whole food in their whole form to reap all the nutritional value?”

My colleague eating the yogurt was quiet, but finally also made another good point: oftentimes food that is lower fat or low fat makes up for that lesser flavor by adding more sugar and salt. That isn’t good all around. So regardless, you’re not really doing your body any favors by eating a low- or no-fat anything.

I’m not a fan of people food-shaming or body-shaming. Someone needs to stand up for those who are too nice to speak up for themselves.

The politics of work

We have a new director who got hired for our team, and he is spending a couple of days with us here in New York this week. He introduced himself and put time on my calendar for us to catch up one on one. We were only supposed to meet for half an hour, but half an hour ended up turning into two-plus hours over the course of two days.

He introduced himself by saying that he can handle and would prefer that I be fully honest and blunt, that he could handle it, that he doesn’t really do very well with politics.

“You don’t do well with politics, huh?” I said to him coyly. “Well, we have quite a bit of that here, so I hope you enjoy.”

I can get away with being this provocative because I’ve pretty much earned the right to do that. It was amusing to see how he responded to certain things I said. This was actually enjoyable. In some ways, this almost feels like a bit of a game now.

I know everyone says they don’t like politics, that they don’t deal with it or put up with it. But let’s face it: once you are in an office environment or any kind of group environment, there’s inevitably going to be politics regardless of what you say or do. Some people are going to be favored over others for reasons other than concrete performance or data that backs up how “good” they are. Others are going to be dismissed because they have been labeled as “complainers” or view work with “low urgency.”

It’s exhausting. It’s why my dad retired early from his “day” job to run his own business. “Why should I slave away for the white man when I can earn my own money and work when I want?” he declared when he retired in 2001.

His words come back to me all the time when I get frustrated with work.

When their happiness is in your hands (supposedly)

In the last couple of months, my mom has been doing far more than just hinting that she wants me to get pregnant. She has out right asked me “What are you waiting for?” “When are you finally going to have a baby?” “When will you get pregnant?” “Where is your big belly?” and many variations of the above. She’s even had her friends ask me when she sees me. Whether that was deliberately planned or not doesn’t really matter, but it is clear that it’s a topic she discusses with them — you know, my fertility and baby making abilities. All that is, as you can guess, totally all of their business.

When my mom is in ultra guilt mode, she loves to say that all she looks forward to in life and lives for is to see grandchildren, that once she sees them that only then, she can peacefully leave this world and be okay. Before the wedding, it used to be that all she looked forward to was seeing me get married. Now that we’ve already passed that 3.5 years ago, she’s checked that off her list and moved on to the next major milestone she wants me to hit for her.

It’s frustrating to constantly be bombarded with these questions all the time. I get them from Chris’s mom, too, but it’s far more subtle. Either way, it’s annoying. Isn’t that news for me to share with them rather than vice versa? With my mom, I wish she lived a happier and more fulfilling life than she does because if she did, she wouldn’t be waiting around every day to hear news about some upcoming grandchild. Rather, if and when that happened, it would be like an added bonus in life as opposed to her end-all, be-all. She could live a happier and more fulfilling life if she wanted, but she just chooses not to. It’s almost like she’s in a prison of her own mind.


Today, Ed would have turned 40. It’s crazy to think that over six years have passed since he died, and each year around the time of his death anniversary and birthday, I can feel pain in my body when I think about how he’s gone.

At the same time, I also get pretty angry at our parents and how little they did to help and encourage him. It tends to manifest itself in a series of dreams, usually where I am screaming, yelling, kicking, and hitting one or both of them. This past week, I had two dreams, one night after the other, in which I am screaming at my mom and threatening to never see her again. I just don’t want to deal with her constant drama, negativity, and hatred anymore. I’m sick of her constantly victimizing herself, blaming others around her for her pain and suffering. I am fed up with her lack of ownership over her own life. I cannot deal with her laziness in getting things done around the house that would make her life easier. She constantly complains that she needs my dad’s help for “everything, even “just to take a bath.” A couple of solutions that I’ve suggested which have gotten shot down: change the faucet head so that it can switch between being a hand-held shower nozzle and a regular faucet. What prevents this? Cheapness to pay for a new nozzle and to get the plumbing adjusted, in addition to sheer laziness. What about how to reach awkward spots of her back? Use the extra-long shower brush I got for her that she refuses to use. Wow, what solutions! And even more amazing, what complete rejections of said solutions that would solve the problems being presented!

On my dad’s side, there’s just the complete lack of recognition of the fact that he ever had a son. He never recognized Ed’s birthday or even his mere presence in a room before Ed died. Occasionally now, he will say they should visit Ed’s niche. I’m always tempted to say, “well, why do you acknowledge Ed now that he’s dead, but you never wanted to acknowledge Ed when he was actually alive and right in front of you?” He continues to act like a child, think like a child, behave like a child. It’s amazing that once a man has a regular steady job, gets married and has children, all those checkboxes become a semblance of a “mature functioning adult” when they actually are not in reality.

My parents could have a much better life for themselves if they just made things happened. But they don’t. Their inaction angers and frustrates me, but there’s nothing I can really do for them to help. As awful as it sounds, it’s probably a good thing Ed isn’t here to witness this and endure their constant verbal abuse and contempt.

This is life today without Ed. He’s not missing out on much with this family.

Anti Sexual Harassment training

So, this is the message we all received here in the New York City office this past week:

“New York State Law requires that employers of one or more employees must conduct anti-sexual harassment training for all employees. Completion of this training is MANDATORY for our company to be in compliance with New York law. Starting today, you can complete the online 45-minute training. Please complete by September 30th, 2019, training link sent in an email. Thank you! – People Operations Team”

In theory, there’s nothing wrong with anti sexual harassment training. It’s creating an online training that shows with words, images, and sound what sexual harassment is and explains why it is not acceptable. What bothers me, though, about practices like this that “woke” tech companies want to require their employees to do is that in the event of sexual harassment, everything they teach you during these trainings doesn’t really apply. Here’s a case in point: this training, which I completed, says that you do not need to have written or video proof to file a sexual harassment claim. Now, while that is true, what *is* your proof — your words against your accuser? The less documented proof you have, the weaker your case is, and therefore, your company isn’t going to take it as seriously. And even the more subtle it is, the more “grey area” there is, and therefore, the accuser is always going to be in the weaker position. That’s why most sexual assault victims or victims of discrimination never come out: they will not only be unlikely to win, but they will also suffer as a result of their coming out and continue to suffer retaliation… even when companies claim that it’s illegal. Google is a respected household name when it comes to tech companies, but it hasn’t prevented them from their own discrimination and retaliation cases, has it?

Even in an age of #MeToo, sexual assault perpetrators like Brett Kavanaugh get confirmed to the highest court of the land and get away with their acts of violence and hate, whereas accusers who are so brave in dealing with getting endless death threats and not being able to leave their own home like Christine Blasey Ford are shamed and looked down upon. So all of this is why I think these anti harassment trainings are just done merely to check off a box as opposed to effect any real, tangible change in any of the companies we work in. It’s all just a facade that we’re trying to do the right thing, but we’re really not.

Old colleague meetup

Yesterday, I met a colleague from my last company for a tea break. We hadn’t seen each other since I left the company, which by now, was over two years ago. I think we had made several attempts, but she had to cancel on me last minute a number of times. And when that happens after a certain number of times, I kind of stop trying. But then, she’s been really kind and generous and has donated to my AFSP fundraising drive for all these years, even with nearly zero communication with me, so I figured I would try to make it finally work. And we finally did.

She’s still at that company, despite how dysfunctional it is. She’s in a smooth-sailing mode, and I certainly know what that is like. Two rounds of predictable layoffs have happened since I left the company, and they’ve gone through a lot of rebranding/re-visioning work. Many of the delusional people I knew while there are still working there, still believing that they work for a real tech company, which is really amazing to me. When I look back on how much I learned about software as a service since coming to my current company, I realized, slowly but surely, exactly how terrible it was at the last place.

It was an awful place to work, but at the end of the day, it was a stepping stone to get where I am now. I don’t really have any regrets about them. Where I am now is in no way perfect, but it’s closer to being “normal” than the other place ever could have even attempted to be. There are so many horrendous places to work out there that are far behind the times, even in 2019 today, that after we parted ways yesterday afternoon, I felt incredibly lucky to be so far away from that place and where I am today.

DiFara’s closes due to tax evasion, then dumb people try to help them pay their tax bill

I was shocked yesterday when I read an Eater article that revealed the beloved pizza joint DiFara’s in Brooklyn had forcibly closed due to tax evasion. They owed New York State in excess of $160,000 in unpaid tax bills, and as such, could no longer operate until they would pay off their debts. I guess this doesn’t surprise me given that the business is cash-only (the biggest red flag that they likely under report taxes for obvious reasons), but it was shocking nonetheless given how popular they’ve been for longer than I’ve even been living here.

But what actually disgusted me was that someone actually started a Go Fund Me account to HELP them pay their tax bill. I just couldn’t believe how stupid people could be. So, let’s get this straight: we all have to pay taxes assuming we are American, live in the U.S. and work, and/or earn over what is considered the poverty line. Why should regular everyday people volunteer to pay the tax bill of what is obviously an extremely successful (and clearly shady) pizza business, just because it is so revered? Is that pizza that important to you that you would help them pay their taxes? You are effectively supporting them in their tax evasion effort and saying that just because their pizza is good, that you will be okay with paying them even more money that they should actually be paying themselves given what they have earned. And if you have money to spare, why don’t you actually give it to nonprofits who support individuals genuinely in need?!

Well, I would love it if someone offered to pay my tax bill…

As of yesterday, they have reopened after negotiating a payment schedule to the state of New York. Well, then. I guess their pizza will not be gone forever after all.

Mass exodus once again

Two people from our customer success team have announced their departure from the organization this month. In addition, three others have changed teams. Another had departed a few months ago. So all these departures, whether from the team or the organization, leave our executive team wondering why our attrition, specific to this team, is so high. Many changes have come about in the last 8+ months that have angered or disappointed a number of us, so it’s not surprising to me that this has happened.

What is always sad is when we bring up challenges that we alone cannot resolve and suggest solutions that get rejected. When I say “rejected,” I mean that not only are the challenges we bring up being called “complaining,” but the solutions are also told that they will not even be considered or work. Nothing is done to resolve problems. And then, leadership wonders why employees leave and are puzzled?

There are a lot of perks to being in an individual contributor role once again. I don’t have to deal head-on with these problems, and in many ways, it’s kind of a relief to me.